Unwelcome to the club

This week, I heard that a friend and very devoted Golden mom got some really crummy news about the love of her life. I thought I had it bad- I was pretty mad at the universe that Emmett got lymphoma when he was only 7. Teva is only FOUR. Ugh.

That is the roll of the die we take when we invite a pet into our lives, especially one like a Golden who is unfortunately genetically more susceptible to certain cancers. That doesn’t make it suck any less.

I spent a lot of time dissecting my feelings on the topic, whether I wish I had known sooner, or later, or how else I could have approached the situation. I mean, what do you do when you join the Club of Unwelcome Crappy News, watching someone you love jump along blissfully unaware of the clock you now see ticking over their head? A clock that despite how you try, you can’t stop seeing, unable to block out the tickticktick of the hands ticking down?

doggie donut

What do you do? Well, I say you give your dog a donut.

Here’s the thing: you fight, because you must. Your pet will go along with it, because they trust you. They are not motivated by an intrinsic desire to soldier through a treatment regimen because they have no clue there’s something wrong.

You have to bear the weight of this knowledge by yourself, and that is really hard. And for every moment you despair, promise yourself to create a moment of joy as well, because some day down the road, that is what you are going to remember. Don’t let yourself get so paralyzed by sadness that you lose sight of the fact that your dog is still up for a trip to the park and is not particularly sad at all.


Part of me thinks it would be so much easier if our pets just kind of dropped off in their sleep without warning, so we wouldn’t have to fight with treatments and choices and all that painful stuff. But medicine has advanced too far. We know things really far ahead of time, these days.

But the other part of me realizes that I packed more into our last three months together than I did in the prior three years. I let life and kids come to the forefront of my life, and I took my dogs for granted. They didn’t complain. They never do. But the diagnosis was strangely a blessing, because it was a thunk over the head to get off my butt and drink life in, in the moments I had left to use them.

Driving dog

So, to review: what do you do when you get forced into the involuntary luge that is a cancer diagnosis in a dog?

1. Donut

2. Park/Beach

3. Joyride. If your neighbor has a Porsche, borrow it.

Even in sickness, our pets teach us how to live.

To Teva and Heather and everyone else in the middle of the fight, may you have many years of donuts, parks, and shenanigans stretching ahead of you.

Filed: Blog, Cancer sucks Tagged: ,
  • Tonya

    Wonderful post! Having been there, I know exactly what you are talking about. I will never forget the nights I spent sleeping on a mattress in the living room floor with Shaq. Bitterwsweet memories. I, too, hope Teva and Heather are able to share many good times in the (hopefully) years to come!

    P.S. Thanks for making me cry first thing this morning. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • My heart breaks for Heather and Teva.

    You are right, Dr. V.: Donuts, Park and Porsches. And lots and lots and LOTS of snuggles.


  • I did this exact thing when my borzoi, Oscar, was diagnosed with cancer. I went to a Mexican restaurant with my parents one night and ordered a huge combo platter with 5 items on it. I ate 2 and took the other 3 home to my boy. I only had 3 weeks with Oscar between the diagnosis and when I had to put him down, so I made the most of our short time together.

    • Oooh, Mexican. Every dog should taste a donut, a taco, and some chocolate at some point in their life. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Dr. V, I’m Janet V (with an equally difficult last name!)

    Thank you for this blog. I lost my wonderful Golden at 7 to hemangio. I didn’t get any time to give him donuts, as we had to let him go the next day. We’re coming up on the third anniversary of his death, and it still hurts. To help myself, I fostered an obese Golden rescue and reduced him to a svelt 78 pounds! And, I promptly became a foster failure. Teddy’s not going anywhere. ๐Ÿ™‚

    If others need help with their grief, I can recommend a wonderful organization that helped me greatly. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement — http://www.aplb.org — is warm and welcoming and supportive. Please visit our site.


    • Thank you for that link- what a great resource.

      Emmett has been gone for two years, and I still tear up thinking of him. I don’t know that will ever stop.

  • Jennifer C.

    This is really a tough topic for me, especially around June when my own heart dog Golden died of lymphoma, except, we didn’t know until the lab results came the next AM after he died. He crashed quickly. ๐Ÿ™ I know the pain all too well and never got the opportunity to start #1, the donut. :*(

    • Oh, that is awful. I’m sorry you didn’t get a few stolen moments. ๐Ÿ™

  • Lisa W

    Much love and healing thoughts to Heather and Teva. With Bailey, she was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor at the end of May, had two surgeries that we thought were going to take care of things at least for a couple of years, and then she crashed and died in less than a week, leaving us on July 4.

    I still second-guess my decisions, particularly for the second surgery which was just to take a little more margin. But I also know that all of my decisions were made from a place of absolute love. That’s the thing I hang on to, and that’s what helps me when I get really sad and miss her so terribly. It’s been two years now….

    • Chile

      Lisa W – I can completely understand the second guessing. It’s been 3.5 years since I lost my 5 yo Rottie and I still wonder if I should have done something else. Like you, I have to hang on to the things that I did fight for and remember that I tried my absolute best to save him. I hope that Blade and Bailey are fast friends together while they watch over us.

      • I think those questions will always be there, but neither of you can ever question how you did EVERYTHING you could with the best knowledge you had at the time… and who could ask for anything more?

  • Oh this makes me so sad because I know one day that could be Darwin and I don’t know how I’d handle it.
    We send our thoughts to Teva and Heather.

  • Cathey

    Having just put my husband’s “heart dog” down only yesterday morning – his little Westie that was “11 lbs. of attitude” – even when she only weighed 3 lbs. when she was a puppy! – I agree completely with you, Dr. V. Donuts & cookies – LOTS or rides if that’s their thing, let her be a smart a** if she’s a terrier – even stuff she’s not normally allowed to do is fine. Bailey always thought of herself as The Princess anyway so she was more than happy to get the extra attention, but over the weekend when see became too tired to enjoy any of it, we knew it was time.

    When that time comes, don’t beat yourself up about it – think of the dogs that Dr. V. treated on her trip – dogs that mostly have no home, no one to feed them on a regular basis and mostly no one to give them an old rug to sleep on, much less half of MY half of the people bed. Because your dog – and our Bailey – had a better life than many, many dogs you know, some of them living with people you know, I’m sure. Just like with people, you have to make joy with them every day, when they are sick, and when they aren’t. And when you feel like it, and when your heart is breaking. Do it for them, and do it for you, and then find a way to help another dog/dogs somewhere. It won’t ease your pain much, but you will know in your heart that they are wagging their tail in approval!

    • Oh, I’m so sorry for your husband, and for you. Big hugs to you guys.

  • Chile

    My heart is breaking for her and Teva. It’s never fair to lose a furry companion at any age but it almost seems like a punch in the stomach when they are young. I feel so robbed of many more years with Blade. Especially this time of year when we spend many weekends at the lake. And all I can think about is he stood right there on the dock or he would walk in the water right there and swim. Or there’s the deck that he spent his lazy afternoons on. I spoiled him as much as I could near the end and yet was still taken by surprise when that day came. ๐Ÿ™

  • Yeah, I think especially in sickness I’ll pets teach us how to live – or maybe we’re just paying more attention.

    Very sorry for your friend’s news.

  • wikith

    Today I put my childhood dog to sleep. He was 18, and had a whopping dose of doggy dementia – he was starting t snap at family members, and would get lost in the house and sometimes go a few days without eating. We stuffed his face full of bacon and cheeseburgers these last few days and yesterday my sister took a nap with him in the sun. He had a long life and a good one, but it still leaves a hole behind. I do wish he’d been in any state to enjoy a last romp at the park.

    • Chile

      I’m terribly sorry for the loss of your canine friend.

    • I’m so sorry, wikith. (((((big crushing hugs ))))) I think bacon cheeseburgers are an EXCELLENT donut.

    • Lisa W

      So sorry for your loss.

  • Hi Y’all,

    What a heart wrenching post, but such a needed reminder…we may not be here tomorrow, or if we are, will it be with the ones we love? Live each moment to the fullest, because in the end all we have is this moment now…and all we are is a memory.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  • crazy wienerdog lady

    My friends yellow lab had surgery today. Removed a HUGE tumor from his colon, kidney, lymphnodes, bladder and urethra. He’s actually doing good but it’s only a matter of time till it comes back. Luckily he’s had a LONG happy life, but it is my friend’s heart dog and this is just going to tear him apart.

  • I was inducted into this club when my 8 year old cat was diagnosed with lymphoma. I know that’s not a very young age, but it seemed too young to me. I was devastated knowing I would lose her soon, but I forced myself to focus on how wonderful her life had been until then and how I would make it fantastic for however long she had left. In our case Nacho cheese doritos, Cheetos, and ice cream were on the menu. She enjoyed lots of playing, lounging in the sun, and being petted until her final day.

    I’ve lost 4 pets at various ages – ranging from my 8 year old cat to my 17 year old Golden Retriever. Each loss has been a uniquely difficult situation. But I know they all had wonderful lives, were well cared for, and most importantly – they were loved every single day.

    We have 2 cats now. They will be indulged just as the others were.

  • (Posted this on your Facebook page, Dr. V, but wanted to share here, too. <3)

    Mom has been cramming SO MUCH FUN into my life, I almost can't keep up! ๐Ÿ™‚ I've had diabetes for almost 5 years (the Vetsulin fiasco caused MAJOR upheaval over the past 1 1/2 of adjusting to human insulin), my vision has taken a MAJOR nosedive (practically blind now) due in big part to said change in insulin (sigh), I was confirmed with Cushing's Syndrome last October (although we initially tested 2 years ago) and am on Lysodren (a chemo drug) for that, and I also have the beginning stages of laryngeal paralysis, as well as Horner's Syndrome which comes and goes in either eye. Soooo, yup, I've got quite the bag of health issues to pull from, BUT ya know what? So be it! Mom and I aren't gonna let the possibility of complete blindness stop us (although it's still in the process of breaking her heart), and we're actually DOING more fun stuff instead of less, despite the need to keep a watchful eye on my stress level because of the Cushing's Syndrome. I hang out at the beach with my surf dog buddies Ricochet, Kona, Guido…I'm gonna be in a fashion show this Saturday at Pet Hideaway with my buddy Mickey Linden…I just went on the "Pet Day on the Bay" cruise with my buddies Spike Taylor and Chopper the Biker Dog…and I'm lucky enough to actually also have HUMAN buddies come meet me from our local community AND from other parts of the country ALL DUE TO FACEBOOK! So take heed, my 2-legged friends, us poochies are just as Dr. V said–we don't know that every pet doesn't get dealt a health blow like we have, so we just go with the flow. Our hope for YOU is that you do the same, BUT pack every little bit of fun, and memory-making into each day that you can. Those WILL be the memories which will win out over the sadness…mom and I promise. โ™ฅ

    Rudy…and his mom ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Heather M.

    Dr. V, Teva and Heather here. Thank you thank you for this wonderful read. I was actually introduced to your blog several years ago and one of the first posts I read was about Emmet. My heart felt pain for you as I looked across the floor at Teva, a young pup, thinking to myself that it would be a long time before I might have to face the inevitable with my golden child. Shortly after I heard of Teva’s news I did revisit your site for some words of wisdom and to help prepare me for what lie ahead in treatments and in tears. Teva is pleased to hear of your excellent advice! Unfortunately, my friends don’t have Porsches but I will surely take the top off the Jeep and go flying through the hill’s with Teva in driver’s seat. Your advice is the best hug you could give to me and so many others. Hugs back!

    • ((((( )))))) Teva seems like a Jeep gal anyway- I just want an excuse to borrow a Porsche but I never got near one. ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Tamara

    I do think it helps to have that time to really live every moment you have left. Those moments are all too fleeting. I also think that, no matter how much time you have – 2 weeks, 2 years – it hurts when our friends are gone. We can only enjoy every minute we have!

  • Heather

    Ah, yes…I have memories that are bittersweet, too. Chance, our merlequin deaf Great Dane developed an internal cancer. We didn’t get a formal diagnosis as there are no treatment options where we live. So, Her Royal Immensity went on as many walks along the river path as she could manage, slept on our bed every night and was given as many honey cruller Timbits (“doughnut holes” for those unfamiliar with the Canadian institution, Tim Horton’s restaurants) as she wanted. It’s a short 2 blocks to the nearest TIm Hoton’s so my husband would walk up there, go to the drive-through window and order her hone crullers for her. The staff were always delighted to see her and seeing her was no stretch as she could easily reach her nose up to the service window. We signed Good Dog and Love You as often as she looked at us – which, if you know deaf dogs, is about 99% of the time. She had about 3 months from the time her illness became obvious to the day when she turned away from a Timbit. That was 2 years ago and we just went past that anniversary a couple of weeks ago.

    • I love that you got crullers. It’s so funny how we all pick that one thing, that one special thing that will forever be tied to them. Two years, huh? I bet it seems like yesterday.

  • Maenad

    Our girl-kitty Lyra was recently diagnosed with intestinal small-cell lymphoma. She’s my husband’s second heart-kitty. Her diagnosis was actually a relief, because I just couldn’t figure out why she was vomiting and inappetant; having a diagnosis meant there was (is) something I can *do* for her. She’s on steroids twice a day and oral chemotherapy every other day; she doesn’t like being pilled, but otherwise is doing so much better! My only worry is that my husband has to be away from her due to being in school in another state this year – I can coddle her (and I do), but they’re the ones that really bonded. It makes me sad that what could be her last year (she could of course have more!) she doesn’t get to spend with her ‘poppa’. I send him lots of pictures and video when I can, but I think she misses him.

    • How lucky for her, though, that you are there to provide love and comfort even in her dad’s absence. That in itself is quite the bonding experience.